FORT HOOD, Texas – Being a soldier and a single mother of two, some might say she has her work cut out for her.
But one warrant officer in the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade hasn’t let this stop her from volunteering her time to organizations in Virginia and Texas for the better part of the last decade.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Penny Johnson, an electronic warfare technician with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Air Cav. Bde., 1st Cavalry Division, has consistently volunteered her time twice a week to sexual assault and domestic violence shelters, child development centers, and family advocacy programs since 2008.
“I feel like I’m giving back to the community to those who need it the most,” said the Victoria, Va., native. “It’s all about helping someone other than just yourself.”
Johnson enlisted in the military as a watercraft operator in 2005. During this time, she advanced from the rank of private to staff sergeant in five years.
However, the road to entering the military was not without challenges.
“I got married when I was 18,” Johnson said. “Shortly after, I became pregnant, and my husband began being abusive.”
Despite the harassment, Johnson was able to break away from the abusive relationship and use her experiences as a way to help others enduring similar struggles.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to be there for people who are in the same situation I was in,” Johnson said. “Just knowing there’s a place for women and children to go to in similar situations makes volunteering especially meaningful. It makes me think what I went through was worth it.”
In 2010, she became a marine deck officer, all the while continuing to volunteer her time to read, create arts and crafts, and bake desserts with children once a week at the local child development center in Virginia.
Johnson also sat in on anger management classes as part of the Family Advocacy Program, helping to provide a first-hand viewpoint based on her experiences dealing with resentment, she said.
“The children were always excited to see me at the CDC, and I was just as excited to see them,” Johnson said. “I also enjoyed sitting in on the anger management classes, because I felt I had something to give, a way to help, as I have been in the same shoes. It’s great being able to contribute to making someone else’s life better by using the things I’ve learned.”
Shortly after arriving to Fort Hood in April 2013, Johnson became a sexual harassment/assault response and prevention officer for the brigade and immediately began researching local shelters where she could volunteer.
She even spearheaded the brigade’s Make a Difference Day in October 2013, during which Johnson and about 40 Soldiers helped clean and maintain a local sexual assault and domestic violence shelter in Killeen, Texas.
“The event was a huge success,” Johnson said. “We worked together that day and performed yard work, moved furniture, cleaned windows, and many individuals donated used goods to help the families living there. I was impressed so many people showed up, and the shelter is better now because of it.”
Sgt. 1st Class Mariel Morgan, the 1st Air Cav. Bde. career counselor with HHC, participated in the Make a Difference Day event, and volunteers her time to the Texas Humane Heroes animal shelter in Killeen on a weekly basis.
Being a fellow volunteer, Morgan said she knows the drive it takes to consistently spend hours on the weekends helping those who are in a bad way.
“I think what Miss Johnson does is awesome,” said Morgan, a Caguas, Puerto Rico, native. “She’s a single parent, an officer, and a SHARP, yet she still finds time to volunteer and give back.”
Morgan said local community organizations could benefit from more volunteers chipping in their free time and commended the soldiers and family members who go out of their way to better others’ lives.
“Some organizations make it on a daily basis because of volunteers like Miss Johnson and me, and they could always use more help,” Morgan said. “Everything we do ultimately makes a difference.”
Johnson said the years of volunteer service have helped define her as a mother and soldier, and she looks forward to continually helping the local community, one family at a time.
“Volunteering has become part of who I am,” Johnson said. “I will continue doing my part, and I won’t be stopping any time soon.”